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- October 05, 1981
- Vol. 16
- No. 14
Johnny Unitas Gets Thrown for a Loss by the N.F.L.
The NFL emphatically demurs. "We were surprised and disappointed," League spokesman Jim Heffernan said when he heard of the venture. Stung not long ago by published charges that Houston Oilers quarterback Ken Stabler has been seen frequently in the company of a convicted bookmaker, the League seems particularly eager to disassociate itself from gambling. Two weeks ago Colts owner Robert Irsay informed Unitas that the NFL wanted him out, and last week a team spokesman tersely announced that Unitas' courtesy title was being discontinued. Said Heffernan: "We're satisfied."
Unitas finds the League's invocation of the antigambling rule hypocritical. "It's a good rule but it applies to active players," he says. "I have nothing to do with anybody." Still, his insistence that he is not encouraging gambling seems disingenuous at best. A now-discontinued promotion for the weekly put it plainly: "Want to win big this year? Let John Unitas, the greatest quarterback of all times, show you how to beat the Las Vegas spread week after week." Even the most recent sales pitch promises to help subscribers "make a decent living during the season."
The Colts have not criticized their star openly. As one sportswriter put it, "If they blasted Unitas, it would kill ticket sales." For his part, Unitas, 48, will survive. As the owner of a successful restaurant and an air courier service, Unitas does not have to rely on football for his income these days. Meanwhile, his latest venture has its ups and downs. Two weeks ago he picked only 3 out of 7 winners; last week he called 7 out of 8.
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